In the 1920's and 1930's, theatre productions were often toured around the country together with any specialist scenery and "props".
Although similar in construction to other SR vans, this vehicle was designed with a high arched steel roof and end doors to allow as much
height clearance inside as possible for such scenery, while conforming to SR Restriction 0, to give it maximum route availability.
The first lot (to Diagram 3102/3181) was built in 1928/9 using second hand LBSCR underframes, when the coach bodies were rebuilt on new
frames for use in electric trains. They had a 22 Ton carrying capacity.
The next lot was built brand new to Diagram 3182 in late 1938 and had an increased capacity of 24 Tons. The final lot was almost identical
to the previous one but had an increased capacity of 25 Tons. It was constructed in December 1949, in the early days of British Railways,
although doubtless planned by the SR. They were classified as Scenery Vans or Covered Carriage Trucks (CCT).
4601 is one of three which were later fitted with an additional layer of
planking to reinforce the floor, along with steel securing rings, and was used for the carriage of circus elephants in Billy Smart's Circus train*, which took Billy Smart's elephants and horses on tour around Britain during the 1950s and 60s.
One of the modified vans in use, complete with elephants! (Bluebell archives)
As they were rated to run in passenger trains, when the theatre and circus traffic dwindled, these vans were relegated to parcels and
bagged mail carriage; 4601 continuing in service with BR, becoming the last survivor of the class in traffic when it was withdrawn in 1980.
In this service they became reclassified as General Utility Vans (GUV).
It was purchased specifically for use on Bluebell as a signalling equipment store and workshop, where its reinforced floor would be an
advantage. Having never been repainted from filthy BR blue livery, it was roughly repainted for a feature film shot on the railway.
The "Elephant Van" in Bluebell S&T service (Graeme Pettit)
In 2015 we were successful in our grant application to the Arts Council
Museum Resilience Fund, with the sum of £84,150 being awarded for the restoration and adaptation of a railway vehicle as a play and
educational facility. The application for funding was made on behalf of The Bluebell Railway Trust, which is contributing a further £9000
to the project.
The adapted vehicle now provides our younger visitors with a safe, all-weather area at Horsted Keynes in which to play and also contains material regarding
The vehicle has been restored to original condition externally to further enhance the railway environment, but has been fitted
out on the inside with appropriate play equipment, and superb artwork by Matthew Cousins ARA. The project forms part of a programme to improve visitor
experience on the railway.
Dave Clarke's photo shows some of the play facilities and artwork inside the van.
* Jim Dorward, who is currently writing a book on Circus Trains, writes:
It is clear from information I have obtained over the years and from the few photos that exist of Bertram Mills' animal train, that it is virtually certain that 4601 was never used by Bertram Mills. Bertram Mills used a bogie wagon of a different design for their 6 elephants. Billy Smarts and Chipperfields both had 12 elephants thereby needing three elephant wagons each, along with several horse boxes and passenger coaches. 4601 is recorded as being used by Billy Smart's Circus in 1971 along with two other wagons for elephants.
Whereas Bertram Mills Circus had four trains (three for circus road vehicles and one for elephants and horses), Billy Smarts had only an animal train as everything else, including lions and tigers, travelled by road. The Billy Smart's Circus parade from the station to the circus site on the day of arrival was confusing as it gave the impression that everything in the parade arrived by rail. As with Billy Smarts, Chipperfield's Circus only had an animal train.
A typical train formation for Billy Smart's would be as follows;
Sunday 11 August 1957 - Inverness to Perth
One of the 3 CCTs MIGHT have been 4601.
SCV, 13 HBs, 3 CCTs, BSK - 310 tons - Class B - Speed must not exceed 30mph